Of course you are going to run the meeting. You probably know the most about the subject and care most about it. Why would you not run the meeting? Because subject matter experts and leaders should rarely, if at all, run meetings.
When subject matter experts and leaders run meetings they typically cannot resist the temptation to manipulate the meeting process to get their way. They manipulate the outcomes in several ways including:
- Giving themselves the floor any time they want.
- Giving the floor to those who think like they do.
- Cutting off conversations when they are heading in a way contrary to their opinions.
- Placing value on the comments of others by saying things like, "That is a good idea" or "I cannot see how that would work." Placing this value on people's ideas freezes the participants as they seek to avoid being judged in pubic by someone of authority.
Even if the meeting ends with the outcomes you want, most times the participants will be dissatisfied with the meeting and not fully bought into the outcomes. In fact, the number of meetings are rising and our satisfaction with them is declining.
Research has shown that meetings have increased in length and frequency over the past 50 years, to the point where executives spend an average of nearly 23 hours a week in them, up from less than 10 hours in the 1960's and that doesn't include all the impromptu gatherings that don't make it onto the schedule.
In my thirty years working as a consultant and business advisor, I have found much of this dissatisfaction is due to the wrong people running these meetings. This is especially true if what is being discussed is important and the stakes are high. You just can't win if you are running your own meetings. The best run meetings separate the process of running the meeting from offering content during the meeting.
If you are a leader or subject matter expert, here are the meeting best practices that will help you and your team produce the best results:
1. Determine outcomes.
Define and make the outcomes clear. Explain why these outcomes are important and whose participation is essential to realizing these outcomes.
2. Use a facilitator.
Assign the role of facilitating the meeting to someone willing to do that job. The facilitator will be agreeing to design a process (agenda) that will produce the stated outcomes in the allotted time. As this person steps into the role of facilitator, they're agreeing to advocate for the process throughout the meeting and abdicate their opportunity to contribute any content or judge anyone else's contributions.
3. Start the meeting.
At the start of the meeting the leader or subject matter expert (acting as the owner of the meeting) states the outcomes, the importance of the outcomes, and why each participant was deemed essential to the meeting's success.
4. Introduce the facilitator.
The leader introduces the facilitator of the meeting then joins the group and participates freely at the direction of the facilitator. poses questions rather than making statements so the group is empowered to craft answers.
5. It's your turn to go last.
When the discussion turns to matters of opinion, leaders should always go last. Usually the group will come around to the leaders point of view making it unnecessary for the leader to say anything. Leaders are always free to offer their opinions at the end of the group conversation. Once a leader states his or her opinion, the group tends to support that position even if they do not agree with it. That is why it is critical for leaders to go last.
6. Closing the meeting.
The leader closes the meeting by reflecting on the stated outcomes and assessing if they were realized, commenting on the level of engagement by the participants, and thanking the person who stepped into the role of facilitator.
By assigning the role of meeting facilitator to another person, the leader is free to participate and offer content. Following this best practice ensures that, at the conclusion of the meeting, each and every participant agrees with the following:
- The meeting design was well thought out, explicit, and fair.
- I was treated honorably. My ideas and thoughts were heard, valued, and considered.
- I can live with and commit to (not necessarily agree with) where we ended up.
The meeting design speaks to process satisfaction. How attendees felt after the meeting speaks to personal treatment satisfaction. When you achieve high levels regarding these two points, getting to point three is usually very attainable.